Parshat Re’eh 5782: “Destroy, You Shall Destroy…” — Distinction of “Places” vs Avodah Zora Objects and their Vessels

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShavua, Parshat Re’eh is being sponsored by Jonathan and Debbie Sassen of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated for a Refuah Shleima all of the casualties resulting from recent terror attacks. To the Sassen family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses and good wishes.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring (or as the case may be, co-sponsoring) a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt

Parshat Re’eh 5782: “Destroy, You Shall Destroy…” — Distinction of “Places” vs Avodah Zora Objects and their Vessels

by Moshe Burt

This vort on our Parshat Re’eh may seem a partial repeat of last year’s vort. But this vort will actually draw out distinctions in our Parsha’s opening posukim.

To set the stage for Moshe’s warning and the theme of this vort, R’ Shimshon Rafael Hirsch z”l provides rendering to English and commentary on Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 33, posuk 52 in the new Hirsch Chumash (published by Feldheim in 2005 and translated to English by Rabbi Daniel Haberman, pages 666-667):

“You shall first clear out the land for occupancy and [only] then settle in it, for to you have I given the land to take possession of it.”

You must first make the Land fit to be your yerusha [inheritance] by removing all traces of polytheism, and only then will you be able to settle in it. You are not inheriting the Land by your own power and might; rather, Hashem’s will and Hashem’s power are giving you the Land…. Hence, you will not be able to avoid fulfilling the first basic condition on which Hashem makes the [this] gift of the Land dependent.

The Sapirstein Edition: Torah with Rashi Commentary, early in our Parshat Re’eh, renders to English Sefer Devarim, Perek 12, posukim 1-3 detailing how to make the Land fit for the Jews to take up residence:

“These are the decrees and ordinances that you shall observe to perform in the Land that Hashem, Keilokei Avotecha [G’d of your forefathers] has given you, to possess it, all the days that you live on the Land. Destroy, you shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations from whom you shall take possession worshiped their gods; on the high mountains and on the hills, and under every leafy tree. You shall break apart their altars; you shall smash their pillars; and their Asheirim [sacred trees that are worshiped] shall you burn in the fire; their carved images shall you cut down; and you shall destroy their names from that place.”

Rashi comments on these posukim (ibid, pages 123-124):

“Destroy, You Shall Destroy…” “Destroy,” and afterward, “you shall destroy.” [Rashi indicates] the double verb form… implies repeated action (ibid citing Mizrachi, Sifsei Chachamim) From here, we see regarding one who eradicates idolatry — that he must pull up the roots after it, i.e. he must wipe out all traces of it. (ibid, citing Avodah Zorah 45b)

“All the places where [the nations from whom you shall take possession] worshiped,” etc. — And what is it that you shall destroy from [those places]? It is possible to destroy objects in a place, but it is not possible to destroy a place itself. Thus the verse says, “Destroy, you shall… destroy >from< all the places..." (ibid, citing Sefer Shemot, Perek 9, posuk 29 and the Rashi; Mesiach Ilmim; Gur Aryeh) "Their gods" is the object of "Destroy, you shall... destroy"... (ibid, citing Mesiach Ilmim) An Altar -- is of many stones. A Pillar -- is of a single stone. It is the bimos, the pedestal upon which the idol is placed -- which appears in the Mishnah: "A stone which is hewn from the start for a bimos." (ibid, citing Gemara Mesechta Avodah Zorah 47b, Rashi there notes that the bimos is worshiped and is considered part of the idol.)

The Schottenstein Edition, Talmud Bavli, (in English) Gemara Mesechta Avodah Zora, Daf 51 Amud Bet through the beginning of Daf 52 Amud Alef with applicable notes states:

Whose opinion is reflected in our Mishnah? It is the opinion of R’ Akiva. For it was taught in a Baraisa: The Torah states: “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations… worshiped there their gods…” (ibid, citing Sefer Devarim, Perek 12, posuk 2) The verse is speaking of vessels that were used for idolatry.

Note 47 on Daf 51 Amud Bet: The Gemara… asks how the Baraisa sees a reference to vessels in the word “places” (citing Rashi).

Examples of such vessels are a pedestal upon which an idol is set and a censer used to burn incense before it. These constitute a separate category of items related to idols — idolatrous service vessels. When the verse says they must be “utterly destroyed,” this teaches us that they are prohibited in regard to any benefit.

The gemara has determined that our Mishnah follows R’ Akiva’s view cited in the preceding Baraisa. Now the gemara clarifies various sections of the Baraisa. It begins by questioning the first statement:

The Master said — the verse — “”You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations… worshiped…,” is speaking of vessels that were used for idolatry. But “places” is written in the verse. How can you say that this refers to service vessels?

Note 52 on Daf 51 Amud Bet: The verse states that it is the location that must be destroyed, and therefore it is the mountain or valley, etc., that should be prohibited for benefit. Where is the prohibition of idolatrous service vessels intimated [adjective: made known indirectly; hinted or implied] in the verse?

The gemara explains:

If [this prohibition] is not applicable to “places,” which do not become forbidden — for it is written: “their gods upon the mountains, from which we derive that only idols on top of the mountains are classified as “their gods,” but the mountains themselves are not classified as their gods, then apply [the prohibition] to vessels that were used for idolatry. (Mesechta Avodah Zora, Daf 51 Amud Bet through the beginning of Daf 52 Amud Alef)

Note 53 on Daf 51 Amud Bet: The verse states: “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations that you are disinheriting worshiped their gods; on the high mountains and on the hills, and under every leafy tree.” (ibid, Sefer Devarim, Perek 12, posuk 2 as rendered to English – Gemara Mesechta Avodah Zora, Daf 51 Amud Bet)

This implies that the only gods that must be destroyed or that have become prohibited are those that are placed upon the mountains and hills, but not the mountains and hills that are worshiped themselves. According to this…, the first part of the verse’s call to destroy “the places” cannot be taken literally.

According to one opinion (Mesechta Avodah Zora, Daf 45, Amud Alef), this exposition teaches that natural objects, such as mountains and the like, are not to be considered idolatrous objects at all. Another opinion cited there, however, maintains that the Torah’s exemption concerns only the restrictions of the idolatrous object, i.e. there is no restriction against benefiting from it, but a mountain or the like may be classified as an idolatrous object. (see Tosafos)

Note 1 on Daf 52, Amud Alef: The verse states that one must destroy all the places where idols were worshiped. This indicates that one is forbidden to benefit from these places. However, we know from a different exposition that a place can never become forbidden in benefit… So, instead of forbidding the “places” where the people served idols, the verse forbids the vessels with which they served the idols there. (ibid, Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch on Sefer Devarim, Perek 12, posuk 2 which explains that the places are marked by idolatrous vessels.)

Tosafos state that even if the vessels are used in the service of a mountain-idol, which does not have the halachic status of an idol, nevertheless the vessels are prohibited as vessels used for idolatry. (ibid, citing Tosafos to Mesechta Chullin Daf 40 Amud Alef; Shimshon Raphael Hirsch) However, Tosafos notes, a food offering to this mountain-idol would not have the halachic status of “tikroves” [as this author understands, based on Rabbi Ally Ehrman’s shiur on the subject: items prohibited for ha’anah — benefit]

It would seem to this author that both the imperative of eradicating all forms of avodah zora, as we may know it in our generations, and striving to connect to Hashem are connected and, thus, would run contrary to the political/populous mindset, psyche of the current iterations of Israel’s “governance.”

This author wonders, how much of the hate and loathing of Judaism and spirituality, as well as manifestations such as bogus “two-state solutions” and the like by secular Jews are outward expressions of subconscious feelings or perceptions that ones’ faults and transgressions are such that one is soo far from the ways of Hashem, as to feel beyond redemption, to have given up hope of ever achieving closeness to Hashem.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them, that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes and the oft-destroyed Yeshiva buildings in Homesh be rebuilt, all at total government expense; due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now free of his parole and restrictions and that he is now in his second year at home in Eretz Yisrael. May Esther Yocheved bat Yechiel Avraham have an aliyah in Shemayim and may her memory continue to lift Jonathan to at least 120 years. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of eight years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Chodesh Tov and Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.